What the hell is this now? Are there no good names for a style of beer anymore? Ask the Czechs, they are the ones naming this beer. But hey, the beer is good. Tmavé Pivo is another style of beer from the dark lagers family. It can be said that it’s the Czech version of the German Schwarzbier.
The history of this beer is closely linked to a place called U Fleku, in the city of Prague, which is said to be the oldest brewpub in the world still in operation, founded in 1499 (yes, it’s not a typo, that’s really the date and it’s more than 500 years old). It’s also said that the former master brewer on the site, dedicated a large part of his career to perfecting his art, more specifically 44 years! And at U Fleku there is only one beer, Tmavé Pivo. This is the kind of dedication and focus that leads to recipe improvement, as well as a process and cost optimization that allows a pint of beer there to cost the same as a Coke or a bottle of water… (but who da f**k goes to this place to drink coke or water??).
Hand in hand with Tmávy Pivo we have Tmávy Lezak. We don’t really know what the rivalry was between them, but the second one certainly didn’t have anyone to dedicate so much time or generations to it. Tmávy Lezak, simply translates to “dark lager”, meaning what we bring you today is specialty beer within an obscure sub-style. No need to thank us.
Speaking of thanks, a huge thank you to the anonymous – and well-knowns too – who fought for the proliferation of beer across Europe. The Czech Republic is often forgotten in these conversations. The truth is that the country that hosts the city of Pilsen played a key role in shaping the global beer landscape. At an early stage, maybe even more than Germany or Austria. Controversial?
Speaking of serious matters, this is an easy-to-drink beer (aren’t they all?), but rounder, maltier and smoother than its German counterpart. And while German history has arrived at the BJCP books, which made it an official style, for more strange reasons Tmavé Pivo doesn’t even appear there. Even though it still exists and it’s still being done. And, says Mr. Ivan Chramosil who knows a thing or two about this style of beer after making it for 44 years (at least), this beer needs to be made with decoction. Triple decoction. Oh joy… Homebrew joy.
And if you ask us what the differences are between a dunkel or a schwarzbier and a Tmavé Pivo, we answer like Mr. Hlavsa: “I never drank either”. And not least, this human being who dedicated his life to such a noble craft, highlights that Tmavé Pivo can be sweeter, with a higher original extract, but as he says, he likes bitter beers.
Well, if they say so, who are we to contradict them?
In any case, we’ve never really had an appreciation for our time, so here we go. Take out all the pots that are handy, because there is certainly not a pot of soup big enough to hold the entire volume of decoction, so it’s better to distribute it all over the various pots in the house.
For the malt bill, a Pilsner base, a healthy dose of Munich malt, a caramel to sweeten it, and a little roasted malt to add color and flavor, but without being intrusive. The trick of this beer starts now at the mashing process, with the dancing of the pans, pots and kettles. A kettle to make beer, a cast iron pot, plus a normal rice pan. A whole afternoon ahead. First, in an old-fashioned way, a stop at 35ºC for an acid rest step.
The idea of this decoction process is to remove a portion of the volume from the mash, boil it and then return it to the mash. For the first lap, it’s almost 7 liters. It was good that it all fit in the same pan, but as it doesn’t fit, let’s distribute it to the others and hope that this works. Once the first transfer has been made, this scribe of yours starts to wonder if this was really a good idea… With this, we take about 15 minutes at 66ºC in the stewpan to have some conversion before we go up to boiling and start a decoction. For this case of a dark beer, we’re going to stretch this to 40 minutes to increase the production of melanoidin compounds. All this going back to the old high-end thermometer and successive adjustments in the gas nozzle to reach the desired temperature.
We reach the end of the decoction (the first one, better said) and return everything to the main kettle. Along the way, the first burn in the arm and here it’s confirmed that this was not such a good idea after all. But we can’t go back now. And there are still two more turns in the wort and pans carousel. Round two, here we go. The next one is over 8 liters. It’s going to be a long day… After many turns back and forth with malt and wort at inappropriate temperatures, we finally reached the end of the three decoctions, with all the volume in the pan. pH at a nice 5.47 that doesn’t need to be fine-tuned, we go up to 75ºC for mash out and proceed to boil.
90 minutes of boiling, simple without big inventions. Pre-boil density higher than expected denoting the increased efficiency of the decoction, but nothing to spoil our plans. A bit of hops for bitterness at first, using the Warrior that was at hand and a dash of traditional Czech Saaz to brighten the last 5 minutes of the boil.
From now on there are no big tricks, cooling down to the lowest possible temperature, going to the fermenter and putting it in the fridge for a few more minutes while the wallows made during the afternoon are washed away. With the wort at a possible 15ºC, we inoculated with the traditional Czech lager yeast, having previously made a 2.3 liter starter for an objective pitching rate of 1.55M cells / mL / °P. Back to the fridge chamber for fermentation, we set it to 9ºC, to ferment at this temperature for almost two weeks, rising towards the end to 15ºC to clear the diacetyl.
After fermentation, follows a lagering period for at least 4 months, which in reality, ended up being 5 months. Now enjoy and stay with us for the next article of meaningless beers that don’t even taste bad! Oh, and historical mentions that no one wants to know and that they are fed up with. By the way, have you heard the story of how IPAs were invented…
Total Cereal: 4,76 Kg.
Original Gravity: 1,056
Boil Time: 90 minutes
60% – 2,85 Kg. Pilsner Malt
25% – 1,19 Kg. Munich II Malt
10% – 0,48 Kg. Caramunich III
05% – 0,24 Kg. Carafa Special II
10 gr. Warrior (pellet, ~15,5% AA) @ 60 min.
50 gr. Saaz (pellet, ~3,2% AA) @ 5 min.
Yeast nutrients @ 5 min.
Wyeast Labs Czech Pilsner Lager #2278
SO4 to Cl Ratio: 0.8
A whole afternoon…
Acid rest – 45 min @ 35ºC
Triple decoction – 15 min. conversion, 40 min. boil
pH Pre-Boil: 5.47
08/03/2021 – Lagering. 1,018 final gravity.